Monday, May 14, 2007

Petitioning the Emperor

Posing with Taiwan into the UN flags.

Saturday I was delighted to spend the afternoon hanging out with Linda Arrigo, a longterm expat here prominently associated with the democracy and independence movement here in Taiwan during the 1970s and 1980s. Linda is a font of information and opinions, acutely intelligent, uncompromising, opinionated, and extremely funny, she makes great company for an afternoon.

After spending a couple of hours going over her complex and insightful doctoral thesis, Linda took me over to the pleasant campus of National Taiwan University's Social Sciences Department, where a local Taiwan-UN group was hosting a Mother's Day affair supporting the island's entry into the UN. Linda's job was to read aloud in English a translation of a poem to Taiwan, our mother....

Linda read to an audience consisting almost entirely of females, plus a longtime Taiwan-UN activist who had done his PHD thesis on Taiwan and the UN back in 1969.

Several groups performed songs and dances.

The DPP's foreign affairs director (foreground) watches a show.

After the show the press stopped by to interview Linda, a celebrity for her long and fruitful work on behalf of democracy for the island.

Linda shares her thoughts.

Linda chats with the filmmaker.

After that, we headed over to Taipei 101 to discuss the career of historian and activist Su Beng with a filmmaker who is doing a film on him, and a biographer of his (hope my biographer is as good looking as his!). Su had a many-faceted career as an intelligence agent, Communist opponent of the KMT, and professional revolutionary who ran agents into Taiwan from his base in Japan. I'm not going to into details here; hopefully you'll be able to read them in the biography coming out soon.

Heinlein once remarked that all revolutions are carried out by amateurs, but as The Moon is a Harsh Mistress shows, he had a much better sense than most in understanding how the politics would fall out after the revolutionaries had finally won. The afternoon with Linda, one long experience of the Taiwan independence movement past and present, showed its differing faces -- the desperate, grim-faced bastards who attempted to kill Chiang Kai-shek in revenge for 2-28, the assassination attempts on Chiang Ching-kuo in the US in 1972, the reprisal killings in Taiwanese expatriate communities in South America and elsewhere, the KMT's attempts to extradite wanted political prisoners from Japan, some unlawfully kidnapped by "extreme rendition" -- and the sweet-faced, well meaning grandmothers sitting in neat rows on a college campus listening to songs and speeches.

The modern independence movement pays MPs to visit Taiwan in Canada, and funnels funds to pro-Taiwan Congressman in the US. It holds protests in front of the UN, and puts editorials in the Washington Post blasting the WHO for not letting it in. These are modern forms of activism. They are done in the traditional modes of discourse in Chinese society: shame and petition. We shame our opponents into acknowledging the rightness of our position -- and like humble peasants petitioning the Emperor, the Taiwan independence movement stands outside the Imperial Court and begs the UN and the USA for redress for the wrongs done to it. Somehow -- I don't know -- it seems, we need a Taiwanese Independence movement version of ACT UP. And we need the TI equivalent of gays in Hollywood: we need that flow of fiction and film (hopefully the one in the works on the murder of Carnegie-Mellon Prof Chen Wen-chien in 1980 will be out soon) that will put the Cause in front of foreign audiences. Wanna change hearts and minds? Gotta go where the hearts and minds are.


Anonymous said...

great article, michael! the lives of both linda arrigo and su beng seem fascinating. i should read up on them sometime. totally agree about the lack of film and other content like that. have you heard of the film formosa betrayed? im hoping it makes a big splash if/when it comes out. one picky detail: i believe chen wen-chen was from carnegie mellon, not pitt.

Michael Turton said...

Yeah, that's the film I am talking about. I can't wait to see and blog on it! Thanks for the correction. I'm getting old....